What shaped Olympus Mons on Mars
Mars: meteorite crater or super volcano?
These images from ESA's Mars Express show a crater called Ismenia Patera on the Red Planet. Its origin remains uncertain: Did a meteorite hit the surface or could it be the remains of a super volcano?
Ismenia Patera - patera means "flat bowl" in Latin - is located in the Arabia Terra region on Mars. This is a transition area between the northern and southern regions of the planet - a particularly fascinating part of the Martian surface.
The topography of Mars is clearly divided into two parts: the northern lowlands and the southern highlands, which are up to a few kilometers higher. This gap is a key issue for scientists studying the red planet. Ideas of how this dramatic split came about suggest either massive single impact, multiple impact, or ancient plate tectonics as seen on Earth, but its origin remains unclear.
Ismenia Patera is about 75 km wide. Its center is surrounded by a ring of hills, boulders, and boulders that are believed to have been thrown into the crater by nearby bumps.
The material dropped by these events also caused small cracks and depressions that can be seen in Ismenia Patera itself. Troughs and channels meander from the crater rim to the bottom, which is covered in shallow, icy deposits that show signs of current and movement. These are likely similar to rocky, ice-rich glaciers that have formed over time in cold, arid climates.
These images were captured on January 1 by the high-resolution stereo camera of the Mars Express probe, which has been orbiting the planet since 2003.
Such high-resolution and detailed images illuminate numerous aspects of Mars - for example, how the features that scarred the surface were formed in the first place and how they have evolved over the many millions of years since then. This is a key question for Ismenia Patera: How did this depression come about?
There are two leading theories as to how it came about. One is that a meteorite collided with Mars. Sedimentary deposits and ice flowed in according to this assumption, filling the crater until it collapsed, thereby shaping the rugged and uneven landscape.
The second idea is that, instead of a crater, Ismenia Patera was once home to a volcano that erupted with a violent eruption, throwing huge amounts of magma into its surroundings, and as a result collapsed.
Volcanoes that lose so much material in a single eruption are known as super volcanoes. Scientists remain undecided whether or not these existed on Mars. The planet is fundamentally known for being home to numerous massive and imposing volcanic structures, including Olympus Mons - the largest volcano ever discovered in the solar system.
Arabia Terra is also showing signs that it is a region that was previously characterized by volcanic activity but is now inactive. In fact, another super volcano candidate, Siloe Patera, is also in Arabia Terra (in the context view of Ismenia Patera).
Certain properties of the surface features in Arabia Terra suggest a volcanic origin: for example, their irregular shapes, poor topographical relief, relatively raised edges, and their apparent lack of ejected material that would normally be around a meteorite-related impact crater.
However, some of these features and irregular shapes could also be present in impact craters that have simply evolved over time and interacted with their surroundings in particular ways.
Further data on the interior and subsurface of Mars will further our understanding and shed light on structures like Ismenia Patera and reveal more about the complex and fascinating history of the planet.
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